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Stage One Complete: Now Mourinho Will Eye Bigger Prize For Chelsea

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Jose Mourinho allowed himself some time to soak up the adulation yesterday, after he saw his Chelsea team defeat London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and lift the English League Cup.

It’s not often that we see Mourinho ‘partying’ with his squad after such emotional triumphs, he usually looks ahead to the next challenge.

But the Portuguese boss realised that this was a special and an important moment for this current Chelsea crop. This win instilled a winning mentality and belief that they could/should go on and win more silverware this season and for years to come.

This trophy was the first Jose won during his first stint as Chelsea manager and it’s now the first he’s won during this new era. After his first League Cup victory back in 2005, the ‘Special One’ only waited a few months to secure his first league title with the ‘Blues’. He’ll hope that will be the same again this time around.

Last season Manchester City used the League Cup as a springboard to the league championship too, as did Manchester United in 2009. So Chelsea have history on their side.

Jose explained yesterday that success breeds success. He also showed that he has plenty of ambition and desire left in the tank…

“It’s hard for me to live without titles. I need to feed myself with them.”

When Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge in 2013, I was slightly shocked by his demeanour. He looked drained, remorseful and unengaged. At the time I was concerned that the fifty-two year old had been broken during his time in charge of Real Madrid and needed a rest rather than orchestrate a Chelsea revolution.

Thankfully I was wrong. Jose has shown throughout this term that he’s back to his old best, whether that be with fights against the media or the FA or by outwitting his opponents in the dugout.

Yesterday’s result was also vital in the progress of players like Kurt Zouma and Juan Cuadrado who hadn’t yet tasted much career success until that point. It brings the whole squad closer together.

Now the focus will be back on the English Premier League. Yesterday was made all the sweeter for the ‘Blues’, as nearest challengers Man City failed to take their chance in closing the gap at the top. Instead City lost away to Liverpool and have given Chelsea incentive to go even further ahead.

The League title is the one Jose really wants this term. He wants to see Chelsea regain that crown and prove yet again that they are the best in the country.

Obviously they are still in the Champions League and can win that competition too. But I don’t think that will be Mourinho’s main objective this term!

The fact is this, Jose seems set for a prolonged stay in west London this time. That means building a legacy and setting goals that will only see Chelsea get stronger and gain even more titles.

Yesterday Jose Mourinho was delighted with the triumph but will be happier knowing its just the start for this new group, that he has moulded based on his own ideologies.

Falkirk Defeat Didn’t Break Hearts, It Just Made Them Stronger!

Hearts

On the twenty-fourth of January, Hearts suffered their first league defeat of the season. Some thought it could see the Jambos falter thereafter and give hope to title chasers Rangers and Hibs.

But since that day, Hearts have won their next five matches on the trot, while the other two haven’t been able to keep up (especially Rangers who have self-imploded in 2015).

Yesterday the Maroon half of the capital celebrated as the team absolutely hammered lowly Cowdenbeath at Tynecastle 10-0, yes TEN- nil!

I honestly believe that the defeat to Falkirk back in January, could have been the best thing to happen to Robbie Neilson and his squad.

To go throughout the season undefeated in the league is obviously a terrific achievement but it can also be a massive distraction. Games start to become nervy affairs and players find that each and every game becomes more and more mentally draining.

Soon the focus changes from the league title to the unbeaten record, yet that the title should always be the main priority!

Then they lose and cracks start to appear as everyone deflates and it becomes harder to motivate them back to the level that they were producing earlier in the season. They may have still go on to secure the title but the run-in could have been anti-climatic and a hangover occurs early next season too.

But losing in January has actually released a lot of pressure that was on this young Hearts side and has once again given them a freedom to go out and enjoy their football again.

The focus is back on securing the league title and secure promotion. Hearts now lie twenty points clear at the summit of the Scottish Championship and they are charging back towards the Scottish Premiership.

When (it’s not if) they do return to the Scottish top flight, it won’t surprise me to see them continue to impress in that league too. The whole club at Tynecastle from players to fans have been galvanised since Ann Budge took-over the club last summer and have performed marvellously well, both on and off the park.

Nineteen players have scored this term, with four stars banging in eight or more (James Keatings, Osman Sow Jamie Wlaker and Genero Zeefuik).

As well as scoring more than any other team in the Championship this season, Hearts have also conceded less. A lot of that will be down to the experience of veteran keeper Neil Alexander, who really should be playing at a higher level.

It’s become increasingly difficult to see Hearts not finishing in the top six of next seasons Scottish Premiership. They have plenty of talented young stars, who have enjoyed success and plenty of game time this season. The Jambos also have experienced pros that are ready to help the younger players with any challenges that the top flight throws at them. Plus I am sure director of football Craig Levein will add a few canny buys to Robbie’s pool next term too.

But lets forget next season for the moment and just enjoy watching Hearts runaway with the Championship title this year.

On a few occasions a team needs to taste defeat to refocus and reach their full potential. I think that could be true of Hearts this term and boy have they responded to that defeat in the best possible way!

Where Are They Now? Rangers Versus Parma 1999

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Back in August 1999, Scottish league Champions Rangers took on Italian giants Parma. The victors would go on and play in the golden playground known as the Champions League, Europe’s rich and most prestigious competition.

Fast-forward to the present day and things couldn’t be more different for these illustrious clubs.

Rangers are currently residing in Scotland’s second tier and were liquidated back in 2012. Ever since, we’ve seen the club in turmoil as board members come and go and leaving destruction in their path. Many fear another financial crisis is just around the corner for the Ibrox club.

According to Italian reports, Parma have been ‘dissolved’ after it turned out they had ran out of money. Their fixture against Udinese was postponed last weekend and now it’s being suggested that other Italian sides are helping ‘I Crociati’ out, so they can fulfil the rest of their Serie A fixtures this season.

The two clubs have a rich history but now share a bond that no side would want, financial mismanagement.

How different it was back on that warm August evening when Rangers beat Parma 2-0 at Ibrox. Lets look at the two sides that played that day (I was in attendance that day).

Rangers

 

Rangers 

Stefan Klos: The German goalkeeper arrived in Glasgow arrived in 1998. He had won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund in 1997. Known as the ‘Der Goalie’ during his career in Govan, the keeper was a superb shot stopper and would stay in Glasgow for the remainder of his career. He spent eight and half years at the club and won four league titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups. Retired in 2009, has since been inducted into the Rangers ‘Hall of Fame’ and now resides in Switzerland.

Sergio Porrini: The Italian right-back had already had a decent Champions League career with Juventus before he arrived at Ibrox. Was a nonsense defender that had received two caps for Italy during the early nineties. Is currently managing Serie D side Ponisola in Northern Italy.

Craig Moore: The Australian centre-back came to Rangers as an inconsistent youth during nine in a row period but would develop into a solid performer that would keep Colin Hendry out of the Gers team. Would spend two years at Newcastle United and played over fifty times for Australia. He would represent the Socceroos at the FIFA World Cup in 2006, scoring a penalty against Croatia. In 2008, the Aussie defender would be diagnosed with testicular cancer but he would soon return to football. He would retire in 2010. He is now the boss of Gold Coast Premier League side Coomera Colts.

Lorenzo Amoruso: The Italian was the first Roman Catholic captain at Rangers. His defensive displays could be inspirational but his lapses in concentration could also cause heart attacks for Gers fans. Not bad at hitting a mean free-kick either. His reputation before Rangers was made when he man marked Ronaldo out of a game for Fiorentina. Ws sold to Blackburn for a paltry £1.4m but he left with plenty of winners medals in his pocket. He would retire and return to Florence to help run a restaurant.

Tony Vidmar: Another Aussie at the back for this Gers side. He would score against Parma and was dependable at right or left back. Like Moore, Vidmar was a regular for the Socceroos (he won 76 caps) but unfortunately had to retire on the eve of the 2006 World Cup after it was discovered he had an irregular heart beat. After Rangers, he played for Middlesbrough in the EPL and then returned to Dutch outfit NAC Breda. Currently coaching the Aussie U17 side.

Barry Ferguson: Was a youngster with plenty of promise by the time Parma took on Rangers. Dino Baggio gave him special praise after the match. The Scots midfielder would go on to captain the Scottish giants and played for them twice during his career. He would also take on the armband for Scotland. He’d move to Birmingham and help them to a League Cup win too. Has now hung up his boots and manages Clyde in Scotland’s bottom tier.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst: Joined Rangers from Feyenoord as an exciting left sided midfielder. He would leave the Gers in 2001, signing on at Arsenal for £8m before moving on to Barcelona. The Dutchman would then revert to playing at left-back and win the two La Liga titles and a Champions League trophy too. His final ever footballing appearance came as he captained the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup Final, eventually losing to Spain. Now assistant boss at first club Feyenoord.

Claudio Reyna: The American scored the second of the night against Parma. Came to Europe when he signed for Bayer Leverkusen in the mid-nineties. He was a versatile midfield man who could play in most right-sided positions. Would leave Rangers in 2001 and had spells in the English Premier League with Sunderland and Man City. He would also become the US captain winning 111 caps. Reyna would retire after a spell back in MLS with New York Redbulls. Claudio is now director of football operations with new club New York City FC. He also has a son named Giovanni after Gers teammate Van Bronckhorst.

Michael Mols: Started his Rangers career with a bang in 1999, until a horrific knee injury which he never fully recovered from. Would leave Glasgow in 2004, scoring thirty-eight goals in ninety-eight league games. Retired after a brief spell with Feyenoord. There was talk of Mols starting a travel agency with former Gers teammates Arthur Numan and Bert Konterman.

Rod Wallace: Rod was a surprise signing in Dick Advocaat’s first summer in charge at Ibrox but he became an instant hit with his goals and tenacious play. The English man started his career at Southampton with brothers Ray and Danny. He would then win the top league in England with Leeds Utd before winning everything in Scotland during his three year spell at Ibrox. He would then sign up for Big Sam at Bolton and then retired after a spell with Gillingham. Was hired as reserve team coach at Epsom & Ewell FC in 2011.

Neil McCann: The left winger had a terrific start to his Rangers career in 1998, helping them secure the league title that season. Like most in this side he won a bundle of medals with Rangers. Was sold off in 2003 to Southampton to help ease the already spiralling debts that had tightened around Rangers at that time. Came back to Scotland in 2006 to once again play for Hearts. Retired in 2011 after helping out first club Dundee. Now Sky Sports main Scottish league pundit and is also Dunfermline’s first team coach.

Parma

Gianluigi Buffon: The legendary goalkeeper is still playing and winning Serie A titles with Juventus. The keeper also won the UEFA Cup with Parma in 1999, months before the clash with Rangers. Joined Juve for £32.6m, which is still a record fee for a goalkeeper. His career with the Azzurri is remarkable; he has 145 caps, has had more Italian cleansheets than anyone else and won the 2006 World Cup with Italy.

Luigi Sartor: The Italian journeyman had spells with Juve, Inter, Vicenza, Roma, Genoa and Verona as well as Parma. The defender also won two caps with Italy. Sartor would end his career with Ternana in 2009. Luigi was later implicated in the  Calcio Scommesse betting scandal and was banned from football in 2011 for five years!

Paolo Vanoli: The left-back scored in the UEFA Cup final that Parma won in 1999. He also amassed a lot of employers in Italy with spells at Fiorentina, Bologna and Verona to name but three. Vanoli would play twice for the Azzurri scoring in the process. Vanoli would also have a career at Ibrox, known for an OG against Dunfermline and a wonder strike against Dundee Utd. Now manager of Italy’s under 18 side.

Fabio Cannavaro: The Italian central defender, like Buffon, would go on and become an Italian legend. Began his career with hometown club Napoli before establishing himself at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. Was sent-off during the first half in Parma’s clash with Rangers. Would leave Parma in a €23m deal to join inter before linking up again with Lilian Thuram and Buffon at Juventus. After the 2006 World Cup, where he captain Italy to the title, Fabio joined Real Madrid and stayed in La Liga for three seasons before a second stint at Juve and then a move to the UAE and play for Al-Ahli. Was seen in Brazil last summer as a world cup pundit for ITV and was recently named new head coach of Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, replacing Azzurri World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi. Has just been sentenced to ten months in jail after being found guilty of breaking into his own swimming pool, but has appealed the verdict.

Lilian Thuram: The French World Cup winning right-back was a superb defender. Strong and resilient player who was never easily beaten. Along with Buffon he left Parma for the mighty Juventus in 2001, where he would win Serie A titles. Then after the Calciopoli scandal in 2006 he left Italy for a transfer to Barcelona. Retired in 2008 after a medical with PSG showed up a heart defect. Can now be seen in the media when something political erupts in French football.

Michele Serena: Yet another Italian journeyman who seemed to collect clubs like cards. As wells as stints at Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Juve and Verona in Italy, Serena also had a year in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Would retire after three years at the San Siro with Inter Milan. Now a coach in Italy’s lower leagues, currently managing at Venezia.

Alain Boghossian: Another French World Cup winner from that famous Les Bleus side of 98. The defensive midfielder also won the UEFA Cup with Parma. Played for Marseille, Napoli and Sampdoria before his four years with Parma. Departed in 2002 for Espanyol but retired a year later due to persistent injuries. Was an assistant coach to Laurent Blanc with the French national team and is now a ligue 2 tv pundit for Eurosport.

Dino Baggio: Not thee Baggio the ‘other one’ but still a superb player on his day. A holding midfielder whose hard-work found him a way to join Inter, Juve and Lazio as well as his six years at Parma. Would have a pretty disappointing spell at Blackburn in the EPL. Retired officially in 2005. Won sixty caps for Italy.

Johan Walem: The Belgian midfielder scored the only goal of the second leg in Italy. A talented player who suffered with injuries throughout his career. His time in Parma was sandwiched in between spells at Udinese. Made his name before that with Belgian giants Anderlecht. Retired to become a media man and youth coach at Udinese. He is now Belgian’s U21 Head Coach.

Ariel Ortega: Once dubbed the new ‘Maradona’, he could never fulfil those hefty expectations in Europe. In three years he would see out three clubs; Valencia, Sampdoria and Parma. He would fail to fully deliver at any of those sides. Had three decent spells with his home club River Plate, winning the Copa Libertadores in 1996. The 87 time capped Argentine retired in 2012. During his career it was confirmed the maestro suffered from alcoholism.

Marco Di Vaio: Had a highly successful time with Parma after his move there from Salernitana. He would score an impressive 49 strikes in 114 for I Gialloblù. Would then join Juventus before moves to Valencia and Monaco. At Bologna during 2008 and 2012 he would become a club legend with his commitment and valuable goals! Signed for MLS side Montreal Impact, scoring 40 times in his three years in Canada. Retired last summer at the grand age of thirty-eight.

Just to prove the point that these two clubs were huge back in the nineties and early naughties here are more former stars:

Rangers: Graeme Souness, Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup, Richard Gough, Ally McCoist, Frank De Boer, Ronald De Boer, Claudio Caniggia, Dado Prso and Rino Gattuso.

Parma: Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Sensini, Hernan Crespo (played 2nd leg of Gers game), Marcio Amoroso, Juan Veron, Faustino Asprilla, Claudio Taffarel, Enrico Chiesa, Adriano and Hidetoshi Nakata.

To think that these two wonderful clubs can now go out of business and have owners completely mismanage them to the point of oblivion, is scary and sad.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play system has to stop this from continuing to happen! As do the FA’s involved. Football clubs can’t be seen as play things or businesses that conmen can bleed dry!

Rangers and Parma fans have had enough of the hard times and can only dream about one day getting back into the Champions League and having winners and top class internationals donning their strips again!

Man United Stars: Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

Man Utd

 

While there might have been a host of changes made at Old Trafford over the past couple of years, it’s fairly clear to everyone that Louis van Gaal (LGV) is expected to oversee an awful lot more this summer. The Dutchman is nearing the end of his first season in charge of Manchester United and the process of stamping his own mark on the squad is still very much ongoing. The likes of Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and Radamel Falcao might have arrived at Old Trafford in big money deals since Van Gaal took over, but the club have made no secret of the fact that they are willing to back the manager in the summer as he bids to put together a squad capable of challenging for honours next season.

Even though this squad has come under some fierce criticism at times during this campaign, United are 8/11 at the time of writing with betfair to go on and finish in the top-four. The fast finish for the top four is shaping up to be a fierce race not unlike this one. But it won’t be just incoming players that help change the look of this current United squad, and there are a number of players who could be on their way out of Old Trafford in the summer should LVG decide they aren’t going to be involved next season. So, let’s have a closer look at the current squad and speculate as to whether they look set to be part of LVG’s future plans.

Goalkeepers

David de Gea

The Spanish goalkeeper has been one of United’s stand-out players this season and it’s clear that LVG will do everything he can to ensure De Gea remains at the club next season. Real Madrid have made it clear they are looking to sign a new keeper in the summer and De Gea is believed to be high on their list. One of the most talented young goalkeepers in the game, De Gea has shown just how important he is to this United side and Van Gaal will be well aware that keeping the shot-stopper at Old Trafford will be key to the club’s hopes next season.

Verdict: Stay

Victor Valdes

The former Barcelona keeper signed an 18-month contract at Old Trafford in January but has so far failed to make an appearance for his new side. While Valdes is a fantastic back-up to De Gea, the 32-year old’s future at United could depend on whether he is willing to play second fiddle to his compatriot next season. If he is, LVG will know he has two of European football’s best goalkeepers at his disposal.

Verdict: Stay

Anders Lindegaard

Lindegaard has been a solid if unspectacular back-up keeper during his time at Old Trafford but the Dane has made it clear he is looking to move on in the summer in order to find a regular first-team option. With De Gea and Valdes ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s probably fair to say Lindegaard needs to leave Old Trafford at the end of the season.

Verdict: Go

Defenders

Rafael

The Brazilian right-back has never really fulfilled his potential at Old Trafford and now could be the time for Rafael to move on in order to further his career. While the 24-year-old has struggled with injuries this season, Rafael has fallen down the pecking order under LVG and a move looks likely.

Verdict: Go

Luke Shaw

It might have taken Luke Shaw a few months to really get going at Old Trafford but the left-back has slowly begun to show just why United spent £30 million to sign him from Southampton last summer. At just 19-years-old, Shaw has time on his side, and the England international will now be hoping to have his manager on his side heading into next season.

Verdict: Stay

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Phil Jones

Say what you like about Phil Jones, the defender has proven during his time at Old Trafford that he can do a job for the team, the question is whether he should be a first-choice option. Whether it’s across the backline or in a defensive midfielder role, Jones is a decent back-up option for LVG and should be kept on next season.

Verdict: Stay

Marcos Rojo

The Argentina international may have been signed as a left-back challenger to Luke Shaw but the defender has soon found himself filling in as a centre-back this season. While it might not be the position he has been known for, the 24-year-old has done enough this year to show he could be a very useful player to have in the squad, although it remains to be seen where Van Gaal sees Rojo playing next season.

Verdict: Stay

Jonny Evans

He may have been a solid servant to the club during his time in the first team but the fact is that the Northern Irishman isn’t the calibre of defender that United need to win a title. Despite rarely letting anyone down when in the team, LVG will surely be looking at better defenders than Evans when the summer window opens.

Verdict: Go

Chris Smalling

Similar to Evans, Smalling is always going to be a solid-if-unspectacular player. That isn’t the sort of player who is going to hang around for long under Van Gaal. The England international was linked with a move away from Old Trafford earlier in the season and Smalling’s time in Manchester could be coming to an end as both he and United look to the future.

Verdict: Go

Daley Blind

The Dutchman showed during the World Cup just how good a player he is but Blind hasn’t exactly blown anyone away since his switch to Old Trafford last summer. Often played in midfield rather than his favoured defence, Blind has started to settle into life in England over recent months and United fans are slowly seeing just why Van Gaal was so quick to sign the versatile international following his arrival at the club.

Verdict: Stay

Paddy McNair

It’s been something of a baptism of fire for the likes of Paddy McNair, but the young defender has certainly done himself justice since his impressive debut against West Ham. Not many, including McNair himself, would have expected the 19-year-old to have made more than 10 Premier League starts by this point in the season and it can only stand him in good stead next year.

Verdict: Stay

Tyler Blackett

Unfortunately, the fact Tyler Blackett made so many first-team appearances at the start of the season was more down to United’s desperation at the back rather than the youngster’s talent. While he didn’t let himself down, it is clear that Blackett doesn’t have what it takes to make it at Old Trafford and a move could be the best thing for all parties.

Verdict: Go

Midfielders

Angel Di Maria

Angel Di Maria’s transfer to United last summer was a huge signal of intent to the rest of the Premier League. While the signing of the Argentina international wasn’t going to instantly turn this team into title challengers, it showed that United are willing to back Van Gaal in order to build a great squad. After an electric start to life in England, Di Maria’s form has slipped over the past couple of months but the midfielder is the sort of player LVG will be looking to build this team around rather than let leave.

Verdict: Stay

Adnan Januzaj

After such an impressive debut season at Old Trafford, it’s been a very different campaign for Januzaj under LVG. Not until recently has the youngster been given an extended run in the team, although the Belgium international has wasted little time in showing just what he is capable of and there is little doubt he has a future at the club.

Verdict: Stay

Michael Carrick

While it had looked as though Carrick would be on his way out of Old Trafford in the summer, it now looks as though the midfielder will sign a new two-year contract with the club. At a time when so many players are coming and going, having an experienced player like Carrick in the squad can only help Van Gaal.

Verdict: Stay

Antonio Valencia

Valencia might not be the marauding winger he was when he arrived at Old Trafford from Wigan in 2009 but he is possibly now even more important to this team than he ever was in the past. Played as a right wing-back, Valencia has shown there is more to his game and has been a solid defensive player under Van Gaal. But he has also offered an attacking threat down the flank. While he may never be one of the most high-profile members of this squad, there is definitely a place for a player as solid and versatile as Valencia.

Verdict: Stay

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Ander Herrera

It took Herrera a couple of months to really find his feet in the Premier League but the midfielder has really shown what he can do since the turn of the year. The Spanish youngster has brought a creative and goalscoring edge in the middle of the park and Herrera could be one of the finds of the season.

Verdict: Stay

Marouane Fellaini

It’s not been an easy ride for Fellaini since his big money move to United from Everton, and while some of the criticism has been unfair, it’s fair to say things haven’t gone to plan for either the midfielder or the club. While there is no denying Fellaini is a decent player, there are a good few United fans who feel he is a player who doesn’t fit into how they like to see their teams play and wouldn’t be upset to see the Belgium international leave in the summer.

Verdict: Go

Juan Mata

Juan Mata has been a peculiar player since his arrival from Chelsea. While the midfielder has always appeared to play well when on the pitch, Mata has found it hard to nail down a regular first-team place this season, and there are some who feel the Spaniard could be on his way in the summer. The fact is that Mata wasn’t a Van Gaal signing. That could be what ends his Manchester United story at the end of this season.

Verdict: Go

Ashley Young

It’s been a weird few years for Young at Old Trafford. A goalscoring winger when he arrived, Young has found himself forced to play in a right wing-back position for large parts of this season. While the England international has been a regular under Van Gaal this year, it’s clear that he isn’t a long-term option in that position. Despite a promising start to life at United, Young has become a little stale over the past 18 months and a move could be just what he needs.

Verdict: Go

Forwards

Radamel Falcao

Many had thought Falcao would use this season to score enough goals to convince United to make his loan deal a permanent one in the summer. With just four goals to his name, though, it’s looking increasingly likely that United will have dodged a bullet in the summer if they, as expected, decline to take up that option. With United showing little interest in signing Falcao in the summer, Real Madrid are believed to be heading the race to sign the striker.

Verdict: Go

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Wayne Rooney

This season has been a tough one for Rooney but the United skipper has shown time and again just how important he is to this team. Van Gaal has taken the decision to play Rooney much deeper than some United fans would like, and the England captain hasn’t scored anywhere near the level of goals he has done in previous years. While Rooney has played a crucial role for United wherever he plays, it would be good to see the 29-year old further up the field and scoring the 20-plus goals he has done time and again. But even if LVG continues to play Rooney in midfield, it would be tough to see a situation where the club captain leaves in the summer.

Verdict: Stay

Robin van Persie

While Van Persie might still be one of the most prolific strikers in European football, he is clearly a player who has struggled with injuries over the years. The Dutchman might have scored 10 goals this season but he has also missed a large chunk of the campaign with injury, the most recent coming in the defeat to Swansea. A fully fit RVP is still a huge asset, however, and United will know just how important it will be to get the striker injury-free next season. He might not be as young as he once was but Van Persie is still the sort of striker who can score the sort of goals that win a team a title.

Verdict: Stay

James Wilson

The youngster is still some way away from being a regular first-team striker under LVG but Wilson has shown more than enough to prove he could have what it takes to be a future United star. A loan spell next season could be the best way to continue his development but Wilson will be one that United fans hope to see regularly in the future.

Verdict: Stay

Can Fixture Pile Up Damage Liverpool’s Top Four Chances?

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The race for the final two Champions League places is certainly hotting up in England.

Only four points separate Arsenal in third spot and Tottenham who currently sit in seventh place. Also in the mix are Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, underdogs Southampton and Liverpool.

Out of those sides Liverpool are currently raising eyebrows with their superb form.

Goalscoring striker Daniel Sturridge has returned from injury just in time for the run in, Raheem Sterling continues to impress, Philippe Coutinho is once again delivering creative masterpieces, captain Steven Gerrard will want to end his Liverpool career on a high, keeper Simon Mignolet is back in form, new-boys; Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana are settling into the side and Mario Balotelli has finally come to the party too.

Manager Brendan Rodgers seems to have found a formation (3-4-2-1) that he trusts and gets Liverpool playing the pressing attacking style that he wants, with added defensive discipline.

So when you look at current form and the fact that they are on the rise, you would look at the Merseyside ‘Reds’ as one of the teams that should cement a ‘Top Four’ spot.

But alas football isn’t always that simple.

Fixtures might work against the Anfield outfit.

They are currently fighting on three fronts (English Premier League, Europa League and the FA Cup).

That could mean that they are going to play more fixtures than most. But Arsenal are also in the Champions League and FA Cup, while Spurs are in Europa League and League Cup. While Man United are still in the FA Cup hunt.

But Liverpool also have to take into account that they have tough league encounters against Manchester City (home), Man Utd (home), Arsenal (away) and Chelsea (away) in their run in.

The Man City clash will happen just three days after Liverpool take on Besiktas in Istanbul. Now the Europa League has been  looked upon as a bit of a Mickey Mouse competition for some of Europe’s bigger sides in recent years. But this season is different, this season the winners will qualify for next seasons Champions League!

That is a golden carrot and one teams can’t really ignore. So only at your own peril can you rotate your side or play a second string in the Europa League this term.

Imagine if Brendan Rodgers made wholesale changes for the match against Besiktas and they get dumped out in Turkey. Then they lose at home to Man City three days later. That would cause outrage amongst the Liverpool faithful and within the boardroom too.

The Europa League has become more important than the FA Cup this campaign.

You then look at when they are playing these sides. They take on City next weekend, a week after Man City cut the gap on leaders Chelsea and now have star-man Yaya Toure back in City’s fold.

The derby against Man United is always hugely anticipated and with the two vying for the same goal, it will be extremely hard for each side to break the other down.

Then there is Arsenal, who’ve only lost once at home in the league this season, while Brendan’s men have lost five away from home this term. The Gunners like Liverpool are also getting players back from injury and finding form.

Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with only weeks remaining could be extremely tough if the London side are still trying to clinch the league title.

These crucial ties could be Liverpool’s undoing but that said, no one said it would be easy for any side to finish in the EPL’s top four. Plus all the contenders are more than capable to slipping up against supposed lesser teams.

Liverpool will hope winning breeds confidence and that they can keep this run going, they haven’t lost since their 3-0 defeat to Man United in December.

They have the players to really make a go of it in all competitions but they’ll hope that their early season form doesn’t comeback to haunt them and that they can record a few big victories over some of their rivals before the season ends.

It’s all too tight at the top to say for definite who will secure Champions League football next term but I think Liverpool will be there or thereabouts come May the twenty-fourth!

The Truth About The Old Firm And Why Stan Collymore Isn’t The right Man To Preach

Oldfirm

 

I’m Glaswegian born and bred. As was my father before me. In fact my grandfather grew up in a flat on Buchanan Street, you can’t get much more Glaswegian than that.

So I feel that I know more about the Old Firm than Stan Collymore, after seeing him discuss Rangers on BT Sport I think Stan knows about as much as he could fit on a stamp. Yet the former English international wants huge publicity and picks on a topic that will get him all the coverage he wants; the Old Firm.

It has worked and also slightly backfired as BT Sport have now dropped him, at least for now.

Basically Stan wants to ban the ‘Billy Boys’ song which contains lyrics ‘up to our knees in Fenian blood!’. Now I find that song offensive, yet as a teenager I sang it. I didn’t fully understand it at the time and just sang with the rest of the crowd. I am extremely ashamed of that now and I stopped very early on, once it was explained to me what the words meant. Before my teens I would only go to football with my dad and he isn’t a fan, so we never sang the songs. Unfortunately he didn’t explain them to me either.

So I am all for this song to be banned, and actually it is banned! But certain fans will still sing it, a minority or a majority depending on who you speak to.

Now the heart of the problem is this. Stan, as he has in the past, has concentrated on one side. If you want to tackle issues in football relating to the west of Scotland, then you have to be unbiased and take both sets of fans to task.

The game that Collymore is relating to is the Old Firm League Cup semi-final.

Was there bigoted songs? Yes. Should the SPFL picked up on that? Yes, I have said that on here and twitter.

But was there also trouble with flares in the Celtic end? Yes. Did they have a banner with the word ‘Hun’ on it? Yes. In the papers we had pictures of two people attacked after the game, both were Rangers fans and one was ten years old. Yet Stan and Celtic minded media personnel turn a blind eye or sweep it under the carpet. In the reverse, Rangers like journos or press would have ignored it too. Maybe in Stan’s case physical abuse brings back too many unwanted memories from previous relationships!

That, to me, is why a lot of the Old Firm arguments and debates fall flat on their arse. Because as a society too many pick and choose our loyalties, thus meaning we soon become bias and don’t recognised that actually both sets of fans are as bad as each other.

Let me pick up on the ‘Hun’ word. The connotations with that word ‘German soldiers from either world war’ or ‘Attila the Hun’ aren’t a kind or true reflection of the vast majority of Rangers fans. Those groups are regarded in history as being pretty horrific and killed/raped mercilessly. So when I got called a Hun, I’m offended. For the same reason, I’d never refer to a Celtic supporter as a ‘Fenian’, it’s used to vilify that person and treat them with contempt just because of their race.

Also let me give you a little rundown of how much ‘Glasgow’ is affected by bigotry and football rivalry, even if its just casually. If you meet a fellow Glaswegian, then a few questions usually crop up after five or so minutes like ‘Where abouts are you fae? (from) and ‘wit/what school are you fae/from?’

These questions are simply designed to see what religion you most probably are and which football team you ‘should’ support. That kind of sums up our culture when it comes to football and religion in this dear green place.

Before I was five I was asked by a child of the same age what religion I was? I went inside and asked my mum, she said ‘Christian’ and when I gave her reply to the kid, he asked yeah ‘but what kind of Christian?’. When I relayed this back to my mother she shouted ‘just Christian!’. She knew fine well what was happening and never entertained it!

At school I found out that if you were Stephen and not Steven then you had to be catholic. If you were Michael then chances are you were catholic, it could have nothing to do with the 80s icon Michael Jackson that you parents might have adored. If you were ginger and had freckles then you didn’t really get asked about your school or football team preference as it was assumed you were catholic and a Celtic fan! A lot of this is complete bollocks by the way, but bigotry, even if its just in casual form, is ingrained into our society!

That’s why we need to educate from a young age. We need to show our children that we can show tolerance and in the twenty-first century that there should be no room for these stupid differences in our lives.

But when outsiders like Stan Collymore come running in and don’t observe the whole situation, and just vilify one group they push a wedge further between the rival supporters. His opinions cause greater conflict and he spouts his tirades just to gain that bit more attention onto himself.

I will not accept utter tripe from a man who can start an argument and then block anyone on twitter who disagrees with him. I don’t mean the vile bigots and racists, but the people with common sense who pick him up on a few points. He hides behind his block button, probably because he is talking about a topic he clearly knows nothing about.

Does Glasgow have a problem with bigotry and football related problems? Yes! Yes! Yes!

But it isn’t a black and white or green and blue issue. Both of these teams have extremely bad elements in their fan-bases and until we all admit that and work together to rid ourselves of it, then we will always have these same issues infect our society.

 

Every Club Has A Bad Element In Their Support Not Just Chelsea!

Chelsea.FC.Logo

So by now most of you will have seen the footage of Chelsea fans stopping a black man from boarding a Paris metro on Tuesday night and/or heard the disgustingly vile racist chants that accompanied that disgraceful action.

Some fellow Chelsea followers have come out stating that these bigots are not true Chelsea fans.

Now I get that stance, no right minded ‘Blues’ fan would want to be associated with such behaviour and will not want the rest of the footballing world to tarnish them with the same brush.

But unfortunately we have to admit that these people (scumbags) are Chelsea fans. They have paid to leave the UK and follow Chelsea to Paris to support the club in an expensive Champions League tie. These people will have forked out a pretty penny to go to France and act like that.

To dismiss them as non footballing fans or non Chelsea supporters, is a bit like sweeping the matter under the carpet. We can’t allow that to happen or we risk losing the terraces to these same bully boys who will drive the smart, conscientious supporters away from our game.

Also lets not try and limit this problem to Chelsea. Every major club that I can think of has its bad elements within its support.

Old Firm followers will use any excuse to have a go at each other from religious beliefs to child abuse to 9/11. Groups of Manchester United and Liverpool fans trade insults over club tragedies. Supporters of Barcelona and Real Madrid will picker bitterly about national politics.

All over the world fans of rival sides will clash with acts of violence, racism, sexism or/and homophobic behaviour.

Sets of fans will often be admonished for using flares, throwing objects and invading the pitch.

So we can’t narrow it down to just one club. We need to stand up and condemn these elements of supporters that continue to erode our games standards.

All clubs, associations and football organisations need to have a zero tolerance policy and ban these supporters from all football stadia. We can’t just pay it lip service and then do virtually nothing.

When I say that I mean on all accounts in terms of violence, racist, sexist and homophobic abuse. Plus pitch invading, flares and tossing objects.

But unfortunately in the same week most of football has come together and have slated these terrible nutters for their actions in Paris, we have also seen the SPFL seem to turn a blind eye to sectarian chants that occurred during the the recent Old Firm encounter.

Many in football and particularly in the UK and at Sepp Blatter’s office, think that football has become fully tolerant. The truth is that it isn’t and that the problem is probably getting steadily worse.

It is the sign of the times. Our political culture is fast becoming entangled with extreme views and it’s toxic! That isn’t an excuse though.

Football needs to come together and try and drive out this intolerance and bigotry.

But our first step needs to be admitting we have a problem, a serious and very real problem!

Previewing Celtic Versus Inter Milan

Inter_Milan

So this Thursday night Celtic will take on old European foes F.C. Internazionale Milano at Celtic Park in the Europa League, with a place in the competitions last sixteen up for grabs.

Both teams have history… Celtic beat Inter back in 1967 to claim the European Cup, which was the Glasgow clubs most famous achievement. While Inter then knocked the Hoops out of the same competition in the semi-final stage in 1972.

How will the tie go?

Well that’s a very good question.

On paper the Italians seem to have the stronger squad and have a slightly better pedigree to their name, but football matches are never won, or even played, on paper!

In the form guides, Celtic hold the advantage as the Scottish Champions have won all eight of their fixtures in 2015 and have only conceded one goal. Whereas ‘I Nerazzurri’ have won four, drawn twice and lost three of the nine games they’ve played since the turn of the year. But as we know form can mean very little in European ties.

Now this season has been mediocre for Internazionale. Their inconsistency has them firmly placed in tenth place in the Serie A table. If Roberto Mancini’s re-appointment back November was meant to bring instant success and a big turn in fortunes, then it hasn’t quite happened yet.

Looking at Inter’s squad and there is room for optimism as they have quite a few players that should be preforming consistently better.

Defensively Inter used to be a solid unit, when Mancini was previously in charge. The ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho would then inherit that side, make it stronger and saw them conquer Europe in 2010. But since then the Italian giants have become fragile.

Much of this season, under former boss Walter Mazzarri, the team went with three at the back. But since Mancini arrived back he has seen an improvement moving to a back four.

Injury problems haven’t helped the defensive department. Experienced centre-half Nemanja Vidic will likely miss out on the Glasgow clash due to sciatica. Vice-captain Yuto Nagatomo will be out with a hamstring injury, while Marco Andreolli and Danilo D’Ambrosio have been missing too.

The danger for Celtic will come from Inter’s creative forces.

Argentine international striker Mauro Icardi might seem like a character straight out of a soap opera due to his off the field antics (including marrying an ex teammates wife and calling Inter fans ‘pieces of shit’) but the boy can find the net. His scoring prowess has caught the attention of Manchester United and Liverpool. So far the twenty-one year old has bagged himself eighteen goals in twenty-nine appearances this term. He often sits on defenders shoulders waiting for his chance to catch them off guard, react quicker and score.

Midfield man Fredy Guarin seems to be the player that makes Inter Milan tick. The technically gifted Colombian can play on the right or in central midfield. He can also go deeper in search of the ball to act as a deep laying playmaker. His passing ability and shot accuracy can be devastating as his five goals and five assists suggest. He comes into this fixture with Celtic in red hot form with an inspiring man of the match performance against Atalanta on Sunday. His ability and form have seen the maestro linked with moves to Real Madrid and Chelsea recently.

In goal, Samir Handanovic is a player that Celtic fans will know after his impressive performance against the ‘tic’ in 2011 for Udinese. The Slovenian has great stature and the shot-stopper is one of the best in Serie A at the moment. Samir also has an extremely impressive penalty save record!

Former Cardiff City man Gary Medel is the warrior in the middle of the park that can run for miles and mop up behind the likes of Guarin, Hernanes and Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri. The tough tackling Chilean can also build up attacks. Although Mr Pitbull still has a tendency to get himself booked.

So as you can see, when all systems are go then Celtic may struggle to contend with Inter. Some may have felt that the Italians could see the Europa League as a sub-standard competition, well they are Italians after all. But Roberto Mancini has come out and said that he sees this trophy as a priority and also lets not forget the winners of the Europa League this campaign will qualify for next seasons Champions League. That could be Inter’s only realistic route at getting into next years Champions League.

Celtic

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Celtic. Not just because Inter are very inconsistent this term but also because the Scottish champions have their own positives.

After a slow, somewhat sluggish start new coach Ronny Deila seems to have the Hoops playing extremely well at the moment.

New-boys Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven have hit the ground running and settled in well at Parkhead.

Captain Scott Brown has been instrumental in all that is good with the club at the moment. He’s got a swagger to his game and isn’t scared of the big ties. His ability to get under opposing players skin could help Celtic’s cause as he goes about dismantling Inter, when the Italians are in possession.

Celtic might miss talismanic Kris Commons but Norwegian Stefan Johansen has shown that he can step up and become a key creative talent when Commons is missing.

Scotland goalie Craig Gordon has returned from long-term injury and cemented himself as Celtic’s number one. Gordon has turned back time with his shot stopping best. The keeper had eight cleansheets in a row until the weekend encounter against St Johnstone and he made a vital double save against the Saints to give Celtic the victory.

Upfront both Leigh Griffiths and John Guidetti have had purple patches, with the Scottish striker being in-form at the moment. But while both have enjoyed goals in domestic competition this term, they need to prove now that they have enough quality to put teams like Inter Milan to the sword.

Celtic also have fan power on their side. The Scottish giants have a glorious history of peaking at home in Europe with sides like Barcelona, Man United and Juventus faltering under the lights at Celtic Park in European nights!

The tactics board could be where it’s all won and lost over these two legs.

Roberto Mancini will probably continue with the 4-3-1-2 formation that has seen his side beat Atalanta and Palermo convincingly. While Deila will probably opt for 4-2-3-1 that can be adapted to 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-5-1 when they are not in possession and are facing an onslaught.

I don’t envisage seeing lots of goals in this tie, with the odd goal or two being enough to see the victors through. My head says that Internazionale should have enough to knock Celtic out but I know through history that if any team are capable of upsetting the odds then that team is Celtic and Inter will know that too!

Standing Up For Big Sam At West Ham!

WHU

 

I feel for Sam Allardyce at the moment.

At the start of the season the manager was given objectives by the West Ham United board…

“The club have made clear that they want to see progression on the pitch and at least a top-10 finish as a result.”

The West Ham hierarchy also insisted that Sam hire an attacking coach and that the team had to play the ‘West Ham way’. Basically the fans want to see entertaining football and more points on the board.

Well now we are in mid February and ‘The Hammers’ are comfortably in the top ten, currently occupying eighth spot. They have recorded impressive home victories against last seasons top two (Manchester City and Liverpool). They have a better goal difference than Liverpool and have banged in thirty-six goals so far this term.

They often play with two up front with new signing Diafra Sahko hitting the ground running since his summer move from Metz.

Another new-boy who has impressed is Aaron Cresswell. He has been one of the English Premier League’s better full-backs this season. He isn’t scared in going forward and creates plenty of chances too. The twenty-five year old has been an ever present this term and runs up and down all day!

Senegalese international Cheikhou Kouyate has added power, steel and versatility which has also helped the Hammers during this campaign.

Loanees Alex Song and Carl Jenkinson have both come in and added quality to the squad and improved the pool too.

Longer-term stalwarts James Tomkins, Mark Noble and Winston Reid have also impressed this year and have been the corner stone to all that’s good with the club.

Then we have Stewart Downing. At Liverpool, Downing seemed to lose his way. But now ‘Big Sam’ has moved him into the hole behind the front two and Stewart has been outstanding in his new role. The former wide-boy has now helped his teams cause with five goals and seven assists. The thirty year olds form has been so good that he has been called back into the England fold this term.

Allardyce has heeded his owners advice and brought in former England international Teddy Sheringham to coach the strikers. Everyone has been quick to give Teddy all the credit for West Ham’s upturn in goalscoring fortunes, yet it was Sam that picked Teddy and brought in the new forwards too.

For a time, West Ham’s league form and change in style seemed to bring rest bite for the Hammers gaffer who was suddenly receiving plaudits rather than criticism for his tactics.

But alas West Brom’s thumping 4-0 triumph over the Hammers in the FA Cup yesterday brought out all the claret and blue doubters. Many of West Ham’s away support were understandably angry and frustrated by the result but to once again turn on the manager seemed too easy for me and a bit harsh.

The truth is that it’s only the clubs second defeat this year but they have only won two as well, with seven draws mixed in. That run of results just isn’t inspiring. Plus the fact is, the clubs supporters love nothing more than a good cup run and they will see that as a chance missed.

The Andy Carroll signing seems to have caused a bit of a rift between the manager and the clubs owners. Obviously when you spend £15m on a player, then you want to see them more often than not playing and contributing. But you can’t always count for injuries and Andy hasn’t had the best of luck on that front. But lets be fair to Sam and Andy Carroll, when he is fit he can be unplayable at times and brings the Hammers up a level. But the timing of his latest serious injury has been a big blow for Allardyce as its another stick to hit him with.

Another one of Sam’s problems is himself. Coming out and saying he’s the most sophisticated boss in the EPL wasn’t the greatest thing to do. But you have to understand why he does it. It’s because people always bring up ‘long ball’ and ‘bully boy tactics’ when they discuss Sam Allardyce’s teams. That simply isn’t fair. He has a terrific managerial record of getting teams to play above themselves and consistently stay in the Premier League.

His confrontational style when dealing with the home fans will not see him rebuild bridges to quickly if results continue to stutter and the boo boys will just grow in number. In that sense he has to handle himself better in my opinion.

Now in the past West Ham did have a rich tradition of producing superb young footballers and producing creative, enjoyable football but they also have a recent history of being a bit of a yo-yo club. The last manager that probably had West Ham trying to play the ‘West Ham way’ was Gianfranco Zola and his style caused inconsistent results and the current board sacked him.

Yet every challenge Sam has had at West Ham, he’s handled and accomplished. He secured promotion in his first year and then kept them up after that. He’s now got them playing good football and in the top ten.

But Sam Allardyce will probably leave the London club this summer. His contract is up and I doubt after yesterday the board will want to renew it. They will see the new stadium, that will be ready in 2016, and the new tv deal as an incentive to bring in a new manager that can get enthuse the support.

Who will that be?

I have no idea but I hope they get it right because if they don’t the fans and the owners may look back at the Allardyce years as being better than they ever gave him credit for!

Rangers Squad Needs Dumped On Valentines Day!

Rangers

Not in my life have I seen as poor a Rangers team as I have this season!

Having watched their last three games you can only come to the conclusion that most of this squad need to be offloaded come the summer.

In every big encounter this term, the players have been found wanting. They don’t have any desire, fight, or skill.

Now I take on board (pardon the pun) that the current boardroom saga is a distraction. I also appreciate that they have no leaders off the park and that a new management regime need to come in and instil new ideas on the park as well as the training ground.

The whole club is void of any enthusiasm with fan morale at its lowest ebb.

But these excuses have no bearing on the players simply downing tools. They get paid to play football, entertain and provide points for the club. At the moment they aren’t succeeding on any level.

Players such as Lee McCulloch, Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd have seen better days at Ibrox but now need to move aside and let younger, hungrier players step up and prove their worth.

Kyle Hutton, Bilel Mohsni, Stevie Smith, Marius Zaliukas, Ian Black, Dean Shiels, Seb Faure and Richard Forster are all extremely ordinary footballers. They seem to be unable to handle the demands of the Championship.

At Ibrox, supporters are used to watching great goalkeepers but Steve Simonsen and Lee Robinson don’t fit that bill. They have nothing that suggests they are goalkeepers of decent standing. Gone are the days that you’d see Andy Goram and Antti Niemi vying for the number one jersey or Stefan Klos up against Lionel Charbonnier or Allan McGregor keeping Neil Alexander at bay.

Now why on earth have Rangers not produced more young talent at Murray Park or bloodied them into the first team?

Rangers have been at their best this campaign when Lewis Macleod was in the side. The twenty year old midfield man was instrumental in anything that was good at Rangers until he was sold to Brentford in the opening day of the transfer window. Surely other youngsters can use Macleod as the example and play with no fear and push Rangers on.

In the past few seasons Barrie McKay, Robbie Crawford, Fraser Aird and Calum Gallagher have all popped up and been labelled the next big thing, yet none have really seen their Gers career take off. Injuries have played their part but then so have loans and managers not showing enough trust in the boys. Andy Murdoch could be the next one.

Just look at what Hearts have done this term. They have given the baton to the young kids in their pool and those players have grasped the chance and now the ‘Jambos’ are flying high at the top of the league. The capital side also have a sensible board and strong management set-up that has a mixture of youth and experience.

Hibs also look a much better outfit than Rangers at this moment with Scott Allan being a particular smart buy. Coach Alan Stubbs is now seeing his side playing better football and pick up points more often than not.

For me, Rangers really need a clear-out both in the boardroom and on the park.

I would keep a few of the current crop but not a lot.

A fully fit Cammy Bell can still be a very good goalie for Rangers.

Darren McGregor has the potential to be a John Brown type player. One that can come in and out of the team and do a job. Useful to have around.

I know David Templeton splits opinion but he needs to be told to go out and enjoy his game and then be given a run in the side. Rangers need to be more attacking and creative, especially in the wide areas and Templeton could be key to that as long as he gets the freedom to do so and stays fit! Yes he can be inconsistent as can most wingers and like most David will play better with someone showing confidence in his talents.

Nicky Clark has shown already that he can score in a Gers strip and doesn’t moan when he gets dropped. A useful player to keep in my opinion.

The experience of Jon Daly could be useful but not vital. Lee Wallace might be best served personally to leave as his game seems to be slipping but if he can turn things around and wants to stay then he could be the new captain.

Nicky Law is possibly the best ‘Gers’ performer at the moment and can drive the team forward. Would suit a free more attacking style.

When you look at the five loanees from Newcastle United, these players are young and should help the cause if the current squad integrate them into the pool. But it could easily go wrong if they get pulled down with the rest of them.

The Rangers youth stars need to be given game time now! The fans can get behind players that they can identify with and a style that is exciting to watch.

At the moment all the Rangers faithful are getting is a board that doesn’t listen to them, a management team that cannot cope and players that can’t show any desire!